Talking Bacteria?

My teenager came home yesterday telling me about a bacteria TED talk she watched in science class. Since it was Bacteria talkssuch an amusing discussion, I had her send me the link so I could enjoy it myself. I thought I’d share some of our insights.

Bonnie Bassler (the speaker) first taught us that because the bacteria cells outnumber our ‘human’ cells, we are really only between 1% – 10% human. I do feel that way about some people I interact with, but I didn’t think it applied to me!

One luminescent bacteria only lights up when their community reaches a certain number – then they all turn on at the same time. Demonstrating that bacteria communicate with each other. OK, so it’s not exactly talking but it is a chemical communication.The Hawaiian Bobtail Squid is the stealth bomber of the ocean by using a luminescent bacteria to make it unnoticeable to predators.

The same species of bacteria speak the same ‘language’, but there is also a generic inter-species language. Scientist are experiment with manipulating these language receptors to create a new kind of anti-biotic since the ones we’re using now are creating mutant resistant strains.

While this is an incredibly interesting phenomenon, my kids and are basically silly. We pictured what kind of conversations bacteria would have with one another. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Attack!
  • Anyone want pizza?
  • Hey babe, here’s my number. Call me, maybe.
  • What’s the answer to number 7 on the homework?
  • If I told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times…

Watch the TED talk and learn. But before you go, what do you think bacteria would say to each other?

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